Projecting 2022 NFL Draft Stock of CFB Title Game's Biggest Stars
The 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship will once again feature Alabama and Georgia. It's the second time in three years these two have played each other in a national title game—Alabama came from behind and defeated Georgia 26-23 in the 2018 CFP National Championship.
Both of these teams feature big-name players who will be talked about frequently in the lead-up to April's NFL draft. Let's run through the title game's biggest draft-eligible stars and project where they might land. For this, we'll use the latest mock drafts from CBS Sports, 247Sports, Pro Football Focus and Walter Football.
Lucky for us, we get to see them play on college football's biggest stage one last time.
Running Backs Who Could Further Raise Their Draft Stocks
Alabama running back Brian Robinson, Jr. had a season-best outing in the semifinal against Cincinnati. He finished the day with a season-high 2014 yards, and averaged 7.5 per carry. In fact, Robinson's performance was an Alabama bowl game record. It was also the third-most rushing yards in a CFP game. The fact that he'd been dealing with a leg injury toward the end of the regular season made his big day all the more impressive.
Robinson backed up former first-round draft pick Najee Harris for most of his career. He's accounted for 1,275 yards and 14 touchdowns this year, and he might be getting hot at just the right time. Robinson could see his name called as early as the second round of this year's draft and is B/R's No. 60 overall player available.
Georgia running back James Cook is the younger brother of former second-round draft pick Dalvin Cook, who is now with the Minnesota Vikings. Although Cook isn't currently projected to go as high as his brother did (most projections have Cook landing somewhere in the fourth round), the running back may have some momentum building for him at just the right time.
He already accepted a Senior Bowl invite, and in the semifinal against Michigan, Cook finished with four receptions for 112 yards and a touchdown. ESPN's Todd McShay praised Cook's versatility after his big performance in the 34-11 win vs. Michigan in the Orange Bowl.
Against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, Cook had just 38 yards rushing and 28 receiving yards. Still, The Athletic's Dane Brugler ranked Cook as the No. 5 running back in this year's class.
Cook's teammate Zamir White, whose career has unfortunately included two ACL tears, has yet to have a 1,000-yard rushing season for the Dawgs in three years. Still, White is Georgia's leading rusher this season with 772 yards and 10 touchdowns on the year. He is likely a Day 3 or undrafted free agent prospect.
Georgia QB Stetson Bennett
Since Alabama QB Bryce Young is only a sophomore, we can't include him in this one just yet.
Even as a senior, Stetson Bennett doesn't have a wealth of experience under his belt—he started in just five games during the 2020 season. In fact, Bennett's story to becoming Georgia's starter is pretty remarkable. He's a former walk-on who beat JT Daniels, who was a 247Sports 5-star QB prospect.
Although his numbers aren't overwhelmingly impressive, his performance is a big reason why Georgia has gone 13-1 on the year. He's thrown for 2,635 yards and 27 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. He also rushed for another 283 yards on the season, averaging 5.9 yards per carry.
Bennett's lack of starting experience paired with his 5'11", 190-pound frame makes it unlikely he'll be a Day 1 or 2 pick. Bennett is likely looking at a late-round selection, if that—him being an undrafted free agent seems more likely.
Georgia CB Derion Kendrick
Highest projection: No. 23 overall to the New England Patriots (CBS Sports, 247Sports)
Lowest projection: Not taken in the first round (PFF, Walter Football)
Georgia's Derion Kendrick transferred from Clemson in the offseason and has made an immediate impact on the Dawgs defense. He's totaled 38 tackles, three pass breakups and leads the team with four interceptions.
Kendrick had a breakout game against Michigan in the Orange Bowl, recording five tackles, one tackle for a loss and two interceptions. The performance was good enough to earn him the game's defensive MVP award.
"Sweet footwork when pressing at the line of scrimmage. Crossover steps are always reactionary in the right direction. Maintains the edge on outside runs and has a quick trigger to fill lanes. Keeps calm and communicates well in zone coverage. Plays the pass through the hands of the receiver all the way to the ground."
We'll see if Kendrick can have another big game against Alabama to raise his stock even higher.
Georgia DL Jordan Davis
Highest projection: No. 12 overall to the Minnesota Vikings (Walter Football)
Davis' size as a nose tackle alone makes him an intriguing NFL draft prospect. The senior checks in at 6'6" and 340 pounds. He has 30 total tackles on the season, including four tackles for loss along with another 12 quarterback hurries, according to Georgia's official stats. Although his numbers don't exactly light up the stat sheet, someone at that size being able to get after the quarterback is impressive in itself. Davis' size paired with his skill set gives him the ability to disrupt things in both the rushing and passing game.
B/R draft expert Derrik Klassen wrote of Davis in November: "While Davis' overwhelming power and ability to take up space are the cornerstones of his skill set. He moves much better than someone his weight should be able to and will find himself in opposing backfields often in the NFL, both in the run and pass game."
Against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, Davis had four total tackles, and he will definitely be a factor in trying to stop Alabama's offense in round two.
It's a bit surprising that Davis isn't in the first round of all of the mock drafts, but him falling far into the second round even if he isn't selected on Day 1 seems unlikely.
Alabama WR Jameson WIlliams
Highest projection: No. 15 overall to the New Orleans Saints (247Sports, CBS Sports and Pro Football Focus, Walter Football)
After Alabama receiver John Metchie III went down with a torn ACL in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia, the Tide has relied on Williams even more in recent weeks. Against the Dawgs in early December, Williams had 184 yards and two touchdowns on just seven receptions. Cincinnati's defense did a good job of limiting Williams in the CFP semifinal, however, holding him to just 62 yards on another seven catches.
Even if Williams doesn't have another big game against Georgia, he is likely to go in the first round, barring injury. He is currently ninth nationally in receiving yards per game, averaging 107.6. His 1,593 total receiving yards on the season puts him fifth nationally.
According to PFF, Williams gets 9.4 yards after the catch per reception, and his separation rate is in the 94th percentile among fellow FBS receivers.
Williams also ran a 4.4 40-yard dash in high school. Williams will likely make an immediate impact at the next level wherever he ends up. All signs are pointing to him going in the first round.
Georgia LB Nakobe Dean
Highest projection: No. 7 overall to the New York Jets (PFF)
Lowest projection: Not taken in the first round (Walter Football)
Bulldogs linebacker Nakobe Dean is one of Georgia's best players on defense. He leads the unit in total tackles (68) and tackles for loss (10.5) and sacks (6.0). He also has five pass breakups, 25 quarterback hurries and two interceptions—including a pick-six—on the season. ESPN draft expert Todd McShay has Dean as his No. 8 overall prospect. Here's what McShay has to say regarding what makes the linebacker so talented:
"Dean is an off-ball linebacker who has good speed, suddenness, range and instincts. He can match up with running backs in coverage, but he also can go sideline to sideline in run defense. Dean will make a lot of plays in pursuit, closing on ball carriers and wrapping up on tackles. His improvement as a blitzer this season has been impressive, as well. He can locate gaps and close on the QB. Dean shows an excellent motor on every single down."
Both CBS Sports and 247Sports have Dean going at No. 14 overall to the Philadelphia Eagles. It seems likely Dean will be a first-rounder, it's just a matter of where he'll end up.
Georgia DE Travon Walker
Highest projection: No. 28 overall to the Tampa Bay Bucs (Walter Football)
Lowest projection: Not taken in the first round (PFF, 247Sports and CBS Sports)
Defensive end Travon Walker has put together an impressive junior season for the Bulldogs. He has 30 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. He was productive in Athens as early as his freshman season, too—in 2019, he was named to the Freshman All-SEC team after accounting for 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss.
Walker, who checks in at 6'5", 275 pounds, can play both defensive end and defensive tackle. Here's ESPN's Todd McShay, who ranked Walker as his No. 14 prospect, on the defensive end's versatility:
"Walker is a hybrid defender who plays off the edge and on the interior defensive line. He tends to be a little late off the snap as a pass-rusher and needs to diagnose a little quicker, but he has the strength to walk blockers back. And his length, ability to locate the ball and strong tackling in run defense make him tough to beat on the ground. His game is still a work in progress, but his versatility will be key to NFL success."
Given Walker's ability to line up both at defensive end and tackle, there are a variety of different teams that could find a place for him—not just ones that need a pure edge-rusher.
Alabama OL Evan Neal
Highest projection: No. 1 overall to Jacksonville (CBS Sports, 247Sports)
Lowest projection: No. 6 overall to the Carolina Panthers (PFF)
Alabama's Evan Neal has showed off some versatility along the offensive line during his three years in Tuscaloosa. He started his career in 2019 at guard, then moved to right tackle last season before settling in at left tackle this season. Neal's performance has been so impressive over three seasons that he's at the top of most recent mock drafts.
Although that spot had gone to Michigan DE Aidan Hutchinson in some projections, Hutchinson's quiet game in the semifinal against Georgia seems to have moved Neal up. Here's CBS Sports' Ryan Wilson on why Neal to Jacksonville makes sense:
"Look, if teams can reach for quarterbacks, they can reach for other positions of need, too, especially if it means protecting the franchise QB who looked skittish for much of his rookie campaign. And to reiterate: We wouldn't take Neal first overall but since we do a mock draft every week, we're mixing it in this version."
Jacksonville taking an offensive lineman to help Trevor Lawrence continue to develop might not be the worst idea. Wherever Neal goes, he'll be a huge boost to whatever offensive line he plays for.